Arden Robertson has volunteered his time at a Vancouver hospital for an estimated 15,500-plus hours over the past six decades.
It’s an impressive run of service for the Surrey resident, who travels to Sunny Hill Health Centre every Sunday to spend time with sick kids and their families.
As chaplain, he started volunteering there on April 9, 1959 — more than 59 years ago.
“It was a place where I thought there was a need,” said Robertson, who lives in the Tynehead area.
“It’s simple, my goal in life is to reach out to people who have needs,” he added. “That’s my whole life, just volunteering and helping where I can.”
The Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) recently posted video of Robertson talking about his many years as a volunteer.
At age 88, he still makes weekly trips to the health centre, and also volunteers many hours at a seniors residence on 111th Avenue in Surrey.
“It’s not about me, really,” he said. “If in my life if I can encourage others to be a volunteer, that’s a goal of mine.”
Robertson operated a kitchen cabinet business in Richmond for 40 years, until his retirement two years ago.
He’s long been an ordained minister, but never at a church.
At Sunny Hill, he began volunteering as a non-denominational chaplain providing spiritual care and Sunday school programs to children with multiple and severe disabilities, most non-verbal, and some medically fragile.
“It struck me how Arden cut through the trappings of disability and truly saw these children like any others — human beings who needed love,” stated Sheila Kennedy, who first met Arden in 1982 when she began her career at Sunny Hill. “And wow, was he able to give this in spades. The core spirit of each child is recognized and celebrated whenever Arden is in the room.”
He’s kept in touch with one former patient at Sunny Hill for more than five decades. His name is Paul, and today he lives in a group home.
“I still have contact with him, 52 years with one man,” Robertson said. “He’s now 58 and I met him when he was six.”
From a young age, he has always been motivated to give his time, energy and service.
“When I was a kid and if our neighbours were older, I’d shovel their walk ways,” Robertson noted. “My goal has always been to help people all the way through, whatever I can do to help.”
Sadly, cancer took Robertson’s wife, Jean, from him a few years ago, and Robertson soldiered on with his volunteer duties. With his 89th birthday on the horizon, he sees a time when he’ll begin to slow down a bit.
“If Sunny Hill closes down, as is the plan, I think I’ll retire (from volunteering there),” he said. “I’d go to the new place for visits but not on a regular basis.”
Many children at Sunny Hill have complex medical, physical and developmental needs affecting physical, motor or sensory development or have acquired brain injury, prenatal exposure to alcohol or other drugs, cerebral palsy, or autism. A wing of BC Children’s Hospital, the health centre works with children, youth and their families by providing specialized development and rehabilitation services.
“These young children, boys and girls, are human beings, and one thing we all need is love,” Robertson said. “I feel as an outsider, if I can show them love and kindness, even with a smile, that means a lot to the children and it means more to me because I am blessed by seeing them and by being able to be with them.”